Turning the pages: reviews
Wicked Practise & Sorcerye: The Belvoir Witchcraft case of 1619 by Michael Honeybone, Baron Books of Buckingham, 2008, pb, B6, 256pp, illus, maps, ann, index, ISBN 9780 86023 6894, £12.50 post free from Michael Honeybone, 99 Lincoln Street, Norwich NR2 3JZ.
In March 1619 two women, Margaret and Philippa Flower, from the Vale of Belvoir, were hanged at Lincoln Castle for the crime of witchcraft. What gave this particular case its long-lived notoriety was the allegation that the women aimed their ‘evil and wicked spirits’ at the sixth Earl of Rutland and his family and brought about the death of the Earl’s elder son by witchcraft. The records of the trial do not survive, but a pamphlet was published in the same year and reprinted on a number of occasions. There was also a ballad written at the time. Michael Honeybone examines the available evidence in a way which enables his reader to understand the social forces at work during the early-17th century, especially in terms of class, land ownership, wealth and inheritance. The detail of his examination is impressive. The word ‘forensic’ comes to mind.
At the end of the book there is an Epilogue, where he discusses changing attitudes towards witchcraft and what actually constitutes historical evidence. I don’t think I am giving anything away if I share with you the author’s conclusion that the Flowers were, in the end, the victims of a ‘combination of intense gossip, minor fraud, local quarrels and the fact that all the magistrates dealing with the case were closely associated with the Manners family (the family name of the Earls of Rutland) by ties of blood, marriage or employment’. Their ‘confessions’ may have sealed their fate, but we can all imagine how they were obtained. At the time it all made, in the words of Michael Honeybone, a ‘certain sense’. Whilst reading this book, I found myself reflecting, more than once, on what historians four hundred years hence might make of 20th and 21st century ‘fears’ in Britain.
The Local Studies Librarian, Vol.27, No.2, Winter 2008, A5, 28pp, 2pa, £6pa from Local Studies Group, Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals.
Essential reading for all active local historians. This is where local studies librarians share their ideas and examples of innovative practice. They also share their concerns. The Editorial in this issue highlights the fact that ‘employers are becoming less willing to allow staff to attend professional events, even when they are day schools with a clearly educational content (and) there has been an increase in people attending the annual Day School in their own time and paying for themselves’. It goes onto to say that many of the staff who go to work in a local studies library have ‘no previous education in the subject’ — which is why being able to attend training days and courses is important not only for the staff involved, but for service users as well.
On a more positive note, there are short articles about how local studies in Devon, Solihull and Sheffield are using the Internet to exploit local studies collections. However, what I like most is reading reports about the Group’s activities and those of their representatives on other professional bodies. Local studies staff are VIPs when it comes to local history and it’s about time local history societies, either individually or collectively, did more to lobby politicians and councils on their behalf.
Pennant, No.44, Nov 2008, A5, 36pp, £3 plus £1 p&p from Nailsea & District Local History Society, PO Box 1089, Nailsea, Bristol BS48 2YP.
Fifteen pages are devoted to two articles about trees: ‘Some Veteran Trees in and around Nailsea’ and ‘Significant Trees in Nailsea’. The first include lots of photographs and the second is a list of locations, including information about species, girth and height. ‘Ancient trees’ are in ‘the post-mature and declining phase of their lives’, while ‘veteran trees may be in the best or mature period of their lives’. For most of us, trees are very much part of our local landscape and, as a result, our local history. Otherwise, this issue is a mix of news and snippets relating to the Nailsea area.
Herts Past & Present, 3rd Series, No.13, Spring 2009, B6, 36pp, £4.50 post free from Hertfordshire Association for Local History, c/o Dr Gillian Gear, Nicholls Farmhouse, Lybury Lane, Redbourn, Herts AL3 7JH.
Four main articles, including: ‘Hertfordshire Children and the First World War’; ‘Paul Victor Edison Mauger, FRIBA (1896–1982), Quaker Architect at Welwyn Garden City’; ‘Arthur Sebright, a Victorian ne’er do well, the story of a Flamstead younger son’ and ‘More Hidden Histories’, which reports on the discovery of previously unknown documents and eight different family links with slave-owning in Hertfordshire, including Eliza Conder of Watford, who was an abolitionist, whilst opposing the ‘vulgar clamour’ for women’s rights.
The Journal of Kent History, No.68, March 2009, A4, 36pp, £1 plus £1 p&p from Kent History Federation, Editor, Mrs J Grebby, Giles farm, Pluckley, Ashford, Kent TN27 0SY.
Every issue of the Journal is jam-packed with news of local history activity in Kent, together with book reviews and information about future events and funding opportunities. It is amazing how a county association with the energy and commitment to publish one of the best local history periodicals of its type has come so close to folding on more than one occasion in recent years. A ‘must have’ for anyone with the slightest interest in any aspect of Kent local history.
Lenton Times, No.27, Feb 2009, A4, 32pp, £1.20 plus £1.50 p&p from Lenton LHS, Sec, Cliff Voisey, 53 Arnesby Road, Lenton Gardens, Nottingham NG7 2EA, www.lentontimes.co.uk.
This is probably the best community orientated local history periodical in England. It is a wonderful mix of news and reminiscences, plus first-rate articles about all manner of topics. In this issue you will find ‘The Wesleys of Churchill Street’. The family came to Lenton in 1904 and George Wesley moved to Churchill Street, Old Lenton, in 1942, when he married Barbara Lees. This is where they stayed until the street and surrounding roads were demolished in the 1960s. Carol Williams (née Wesley), who was born in 1944, provides a wonderfully evocative account of what it was like to grow up in a close-knit community, which I am sure will be used in years to come by future local (and family) historians wanting to understand community life. Carol is the same age as me, yet I have never sat down and written an account of growing up in Wembley. The photographs are wonderful and of their time.
Elsewhere in this issue is an article about ‘Some Lenton Inquests’, followed by ‘Michael Browne: Nottingham Coroner and Lenton Resident’, which is account of his life and work. He was born in Pontefract in 1800 and at the time of his death in 1891, he was believed to be the oldest coroner in England — a position he was elected to in 1836. Then there is ‘Bridge over the River Leen’, which is an account of how an old footbridge across the Nottingham Canal was replaced by a road bridge in the mid-1960s, by which time the canal was defunct and at this point had become the course of the River Leen, which ran close by. It was also a period of great change in this part of Lenton, with the Spring Close area being demolished to make way for Nottingham’s University Hospital and Queen’s Medical Centre. The article was prompted by the rediscovery of some old photographs showing the new bridge under construction. The main article in this issue is Part 1 of ‘Lenton’s Second World War Dead: The Search’ and covers those with surnames beginning A–L, plus an account of the projects (in the early-1980s) and how the search has been organised. This follows a similar project in relation to the First World War and, by any measure, is an impressive achievement.
Two final articles, both with WW II connections, bring up the rear in this issue. The heading, ‘Evacuated to Lenton’, made me look twice. Much of Lenton then, as now, was an industrial area, with Boots, Raleigh and Player’s all having their main factories in Lenton, plus countless other businesses, so why would anyone be evacuated to Lenton? Reading the article it was possible to understand how it came about. In 1944, Maureen Labbett was a child living close to Beckton Gas Works in East London and V2 rockets were being aimed at London by the Nazis. In such circumstances, Lenton must have seemed a safe place to send a child. The origins of this article go back to a chance conversation by Maureen with a complete stranger in Southend, who happened to be from Nottingham, which led to the Lenton link being established, then, even more remarkable, the name of the Marriott family she got to know during her brief stay was mentioned and the stranger was able to tell Maureen how to contact Glenys Randle, an active Lenton local historian and a Marriott — hence the two-page article. ‘Dunkirk School and the Second World War’ is a reminiscence by Richard Gadsby, who attended the primary school from 1942 until 1947. He describes Dunkirk as ‘a rather isolated community, seemingly cut off from the rest of the world’. Today, like Lenton, it is an area where the majority of residents are students, but the permanent members of the community remain fiercely proud and have, like their Lenton neighbours, an independence of mind which enables then to survive in fast-changing times.
The issue closes with half-a-dozen ‘Society Snips’ about a wide variety of topics. The importance of the Lenton Times to the community it serves, regularly selling 600 copies, sometimes 1,000 when a special issue comes along, cannot be underestimated. It gives us all a sense of place and pride and I feel able to say these things because, although I am a member of Lenton Local History Society and an active local historian of sorts, I am primarily a community activist who harnesses the power of local history to help improve the quality of inner-city life.
Birmingham Historian, No.33, Spring 2009, A4, 44pp, £3.50 plus £2.00 p&p from Birmingham & District Local History Association, Richard Albutt, Local Studies Dept, Birmingham Central Library, Chamberlain Square, Birmingham B3 3HQ.
One of the things I like about the Birmingham Historian is the fact that since its first issue in 1987, it has probably contained more articles about some aspect of local government in relation to the city than have appeared in all the other local history periodicals I have seen put together and this latest issue is no exception. All four main articles have some link with local politics: ‘The Best Governed City in The World?' refers to a comment by an American journalist about Birmingham in late-Victorian times, at a time when it was in the middle of a long and heated debate about the city’s slums and what should be done to rehouse the poor. This article explores why it took the City Council so long to address the problem. One of the reasons, of course, was the inability of trade unionists and socialists to make any headway against the dominant Tory and Liberal party machines (this was the time of the Chamberlains), but there was one, unlikely, exception of sorts, as the article ‘Eldred Hallas, Birmingham’s First Labour MP?’ explores. Hallas was a trade union leader who supported the First World War and was rewarded in 1918 when the Unionists supported him as a National Democratic Party candidate in the Duddeston and Nechells constituency, where he was elected with a 6,516 majority. In 1919, he crossed the floor of Parliament and took the Labour whip. He did not seek re-election in 1922, when he returned to his trade union work. He died in 1926. He was a remarkable Labour leader, who demonstrated that socialists could also be patriots.
The article I enjoyed the most in this issue was ‘The Story behind the Man who built Birmingham Town Hall’. Joseph Hansom is best known as the man who designed the Hansom Cab. He also designed and built Birmingham Town Hall, which opened in 1834, but this being Birmingham, its construction was not without some drama. It was, for its time (and remains so), an iconic building, as impressive now as it must have been then. As a young Birmingham city councillor in the early-1970s, I served on the city’s Planning and Public Works Committee and was present at a discussion on the future of the Town Hall with the then City Engineer and other officers, when it was suggested that it should be jacked up from its foundation and turned so that it was directly aligned with Corporation Street. It never happened, but I could see the merit in the idea.
Finally, it is the turn of a Birmingham Victorian Liberal politician to take centre stage. John Skirrow Wright is described in the title as ‘The Benefactor Whose Statue Was Destroyed'. This is an account of his life and how a statue of him came to be erected in 1883, paid for by public subscription, seven years after his death from a heart attack at the age of fifty-eight, only to be taken down in 1951 and destroyed, rather than restored and re-located. I would have liked more information about how the decision came to be made. There must be some minutes in the City Archives which could explain the mystery. As anyone who has been reading my reviews of local history books and periodicals for the last twenty-five years will know, I believe that the failure of local historians to give attention to the local governance of their communities contributes to the, generally, bad press our councils receive today. All too many of us live in ignorance of what past councillors and council staff have achieved on our behalf (and continue to do so in the face of anti-council governments and MPs of all political persuasions). In this respect, Birmingham is an exception and as such deserves to be applauded.
14 April 2009